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Banking

Turkey: It’s about the journey, not the destination

Turkey set out on the road to EU accession some 60 years ago but the goal remains elusive. Turkish bankers consider the journey worthwhile. But, they muse, if the country keeps on being spurned it should look east rather than west to apply its new-found expertise and dynamism. Eric Ellis reports.

ZEKI ÖNDER, THE charismatic senior vice-president of Turkey’s Sekerbank, tells an anecdote about a busy Chinese development banker he was having a drink with in Beijing recently.

Their conversation turned to Turkey’s perennial tilt at European Union membership, and Europe’s lukewarm attitude to Ankara’s westward ambition. The Beijing banker questioned why Turkey even wanted to be there. "He told me that he felt sorry for European bankers," Önder recalls. "He said it was because there is nothing left to do there. ‘Look at us,’ he said, ‘we have a huge future to get excited about.’" Önder laughs. "And he was right."

Thoughtfully drawing on a cigar as he tells the story, Önder casts a philosophical eye from his eyrie over Istanbul’s fast-rising Levent financial district east to the Bosphorus and beyond, across Turkey’s great Anatolian steppe to Russia, central Asia and the Middle East and, as he imagines, to India and China.

"I more or less feel the same about Turkey," Önder says. "We have a lot to get excited about – we have a huge task that we can picture and plan, and so many things to be done."

In relating his encounter with the Chinese banker, Önder has jabbed a metaphorical finger at the Great Dilemma that faces thrusting Turkey and its relatively moribund European neighbours to the west.

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